5 Lessons from Baptism Videos
1. Make a Baptism Video
In May of 2014, some very good friends of mine were getting baptized at Arrowhead. Usually, I would take photos of the baptisms to give to the families- but since these were my friends, I decided to experiment on them and try shooting video instead. I grabbed my Dad last minute, gave him a run through on a camera, and he and I shot the baptism as a video. Afterwards, I took the footage to my office and began to piece it together. Usually, I tend to shoot and edit with a practiced stoicism. But this time was different. I sat in front of the computer monitor and tears streamed down my face as I watched in close detail the baptism of people I so loved. I had to stop and collect myself more than once, emotionally unable to continue editing. I realized in that moment, hey, this is a pretty good idea.
In one day, that video became the most popular we had ever published, surpassing 300 others overnight- watched by thousands of people in just a few hours. Why? Because it is a meaningful story - or rather, the culmination of many many stories, all of which begin in some unknown darkness and end in a very public profession of Jesus. I think as Christians, our souls cannot help but flood with joy in seeing baptism.
It is pure celebration.
Since then, baptism hightlight videos have become a reoccurrence for us at Arrowhead. What you don't see on the video are the amounts of high fives, hugs, and tears that happen behind back stage - the camera crew not excluded. On all sides, from production to distribution, it is a powerful thing to be a part of. I've seen a few other churches do videos like this, and I can't recommend it enough. If you can, make a baptism video.
2. There is planning
Since that first video last May, the shooting itself is planned in advance. The setup I've used is four cameras on both sides of the baptismal. I have a closeup, a wide, and two medium shots. The closeup and wide shoot at 60fps and the medium shots shoot at 240fps, so that in editing, everything will be in slow motion. It loses some picture quality, but it's negligible enough to accommodate for the slow motion. This setup produces an exorbitant amount of footage to comb through for every baptism- but again, worth it.
Planning also includes the boring, but seemingly obvious prep, like making sure the cameras all have memory and batteries.
You don't need really high tech equipment either. We have shot these videos with two entry level DSLRs, iPhones, and iPads. If you watch the video from 1/18/15, you can see us filming with iPhones and iPads in the background.
Last weekend, two close friends of mine, Adam and Philip, were staying at my house over the weekend (as they both now live out of town/state), and so (of course) I asked for their help in shooting the baptism video. Side note, my friends are extremely kind and willing to help whenever I have needed them- really upstanding gents. Philip was baptized in the first baptism video I shot in May (he's the guy who can't stop smiling and hugs Ben about midway through), and now here he is, capturing this moment for other people. He was ecstatic all over again. I'm telling you- baptisms are awesome.
3. There is a Process
I begin by editing every single individual baptism, with all the cameras and shots, as if it were the entire video. I end up with a timeline of these baptism segments separated by a few seconds from each other. I won't show the baptisms in chronological order of when they occurred, but in order of the emotional flow. Where does this flow come from? The music.
I use the music to drive the emotional narrative of the video, or at least provide a blueprint, and I build the footage on top of the song accordingly. So for example, in the January 18 baptism video, there's a moment the song really builds and repeats, "You make me brave." I placed the baptisms of an entire family, which was an incredibly inspiring and encouraging moment, to this portion of the song. Then I followed it again and again with quick shots of new people being baptized as the song enthusiastically continues to shout, "you make me brave," hitting the viewer with what feels like waves of momentum. It's the full effect of the music and the visuals that work together to craft this celebratory emotional narrative.
This means two things. First, my only role in shooting and editing is really as the storyteller: I control the style and presentation, and that is literally it. The power is in the baptism and the music.
The second thing it means is that the music is really important to get right. This hasn't really been a struggle- there are so many good songs to choose from. But I do have a set of criteria I generally look for in a song:
- It should be about Jesus (duh)
- It shouldn't sound live
- It should crescendo from a meek beginning to a full and rich melody
- It should make a reference to baptism or the meaning behind baptism
4. It is exhausting
To be totally honest, it is emotionally exhausting for me to make these videos in a way that other videos are not. I think I've told my girlfriend every time I'm about half way finished editing a baptism video, "I don't know if I can keep making this." I'm not being dramatic; it is just emotionally draining, at least for me. Honestly, I get to this point where I feel as though I cannot make a single more edit for the lack of cognition. It's really weird. I ask God for the fortitude to complete it, and he grants it to me. I press on and somehow God makes it into something so much better than I could have. I absolutely love making these, but I know that it will be tiring.
5. There are so many ways to do it
Sort of on purpose, sort of accidentally, the first 3 baptism highlight videos we made followed the same pattern and process. But there are so many ways I can imagine doing baptism videos, and it's likely I'll be trying some of those ideas out in the coming months.
For example, what if we showed a video of a person's salvation story on the screen and then immediately after it ends, the audience watches them be baptized? Or what if, as you watched the video, you heard the person describing how Jesus has transformed their life? There are so many options. As we've made more baptism videos, I've tried to think of more effective ways to convey the impact Jesus has made on the individual. These two videos are examples of that attempt.
The thing is, baptism is a really powerful moment to capture. So no matter how you do it, the video will matter.